Asghar Seyed-Gohrab appointed as Professor of Iranian and Persian Studies

Prof. dr. Asghar Seyed-Gohrab
Prof. Asghar Seyed-Gohrab (photographer Sacha de Boer)

Asghar Seyed-Gohrab has been appointed to the new chair of Iranian and Persian Studies at Utrecht University. The remit of the chair covers fields such as Persian poetry as a living tradition, Islamic mysticism (Sufism), and the history of Shiism and of the Persian-speaking parts of the Islamic world. The chair complements the Humanities faculty’s existing expertise in pre-modern and modern Arabo-Islamic history and religion, and thereby enriches the study of the Middle East at Utrecht University in crucial respects.  

Central to Seyed-Gohrab’s research is the study of medieval Persian poetry (both secular and religious) and its reception in the modern world, examining how medieval poetry, mystical concepts and philosophical notions are deployed in modern Iranian politics, in popular culture, in visual representations, and in social media. 

Poetry as a vehicle 

In his recent NWO-funded research, Seyed-Gohrab examined the use of classical Persian poetry and medieval mystical and philosophical concepts in three central episodes in twentieth-century Iran. At the time of the Constitutional Revolution (1905-11), poetry became a vehicle for introducing Western social and political ideas. During the Iranian Revolution (1978-79), ayatollah Khomeini used poetry to express his mystical ideals; he also used mystical concepts in order to buttress his theory of Islamic government. During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), poetry became part of the state propaganda, supporting the cult of martyrdom, which in the crisis became an icon of national identity and a means to justify violence.  

To process the horrors of war 

Poetry was also used on an intensely personal level, to process the horrors and quandaries of revolution and war. All three episodes were marked by a paradox: the constitutionalists struggled for political and economic independence from the same nations that inspired social and political reforms during the Constitutional Revolution; the mystic-poet Khomeini would not hurt a fly but his political ideology was ruthless; and mystical ideals of peacefulness and everlasting life were used in the Iran-Iraq war to incite people to violence, or even give up their own lives. 

Asghar Seyed-Gohrab 

Asghar Seyed-Gohrab was born in Tehran and lives in the Netherlands since 1986. He studied English language and literature (M.A.) at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, and Persian language and culture (M.A.) at Leiden University. This is also where he completed his PhD on Persian literature and Islamic mysticism. See more on his personal website